Unlike many Thai towns where historic old houses have been replaced by concrete blocks in the name of “progress”, the village of Nakhon Chaisi has successfully preserved its heritage. Ringed by venerable wooden shophouses, Talad Thana lies at the heart of Nakhon Pathom province’s enduring agricultural tradition.
Set on a scenic bank of the Tha-Jeen River, Thana Market has served as Nakhon Chaisi’s centre for at least a century and a half. The name translates roughly as “Farm Port Market” due to its proximity near a river pier, or tha in Thai, and within easy boating distance of countless agricultural fields, or naa. Though the area is only some 40 kilometres west of Bangkok, it remains home to many rice, fruit and flower farms that have been handed down for generations.
Nakhon Pathom province is famous for its pomelo, or sam-o in Thai, the volleyball-sized green fruit that looks like a plump, overgrown pear but reveals a grapefruit-like flesh when the thick green peel is cut away. In the old roofed confines of Thana market and several of the century-old shops that surround it, you don’t have to look far for the sweet-and-sour citrus-y flavours of sam-o.
In fact, several of Talad Thana’s vendors specialise in yum sam-o, a salad that calls on the salty and sweet tones of dried shrimp, salted fish, fried pork skin, peanut, chillies, fish sauce and coconut sugar to balance the fruit’s natural sourness. It’s a must-try while in Nakhon Chaisi.
Among the noodle soups, steamed duck, old-style central Thai curries, grilled mackerel fish and jumbo prawns, another dish that caught our attention was fried papaya salad, or som tam tort. Strips of green papaya are deep fried, almost to the consistency of potato chips, then mixed with a barrage of spicy, salty, sour and sweet ingredients that awaken the tongue.
Not quite finished after a plate of fried som tam, we moved onto a seriously fiery plate of khanom jin, or soft noodles made from sticky rice, with a pungent curry of freshwater crab and an explosive bouquet of spices. A side of fresh local veggies, including the always photogenic purple Asian eggplant, helped to ease our dripping noses.
While the food is a major highlight at Thana, the atmospheric heritage shophouses are what make it truly special. Faded reddish-brown or off-white plank wood exteriors are punctuated by sun-faded sky-blue, lime-green and burnt-orange shutters.
Chubby dogs nap next to potted plants on the imperfect cement footpaths; ancient-looking red signs with golden Thai and Chinese scripts hang above open shopfronts; orchids dangle from rusty tin awnings; and along with the neatly stacked pomelo, modest stores offer Chinese herbal medicines, new and vintage toys, handmade brooms and homemade Thai sweets.
Every inch of a two-floor antique shop set in an especially striking old house is filled with old bronze miniatures of the Eiffel Tower, globes that count “British India” among the world’s territories, treacherous-looking dolls from the ’50s, adorable tea sets and a profusion of life-like statues of Chairman Mao.
After 20 minutes of tinkering, we strolled along the Tha-Jeen while snapping photos of a bridge that was constructed by command of King Rama V in the early 1900s. Though we were too stuffed to try it, a large restaurant on a riverside patio appears to be a fine place to sample the locally-caught fish while watching the current glide past.
How to get there
Thana Old Market is pleasant 1.5 kilometre walk or 20 baht moto-taxi ride from Nakhon Chaisi Railway Station, which can be reached from Thonburi Rail Station in Bangkok. This is where trains depart for Kanchanaburi, making Talad Thana a worthwhile lunch detour if you're headed in that direction.
Alternately, minibuses depart for Nakhon Pathom throughout the day from Bangkok's Victory Monument and can drop you in Nakhon Chaisi, and local buses are readily available if coming from Nakhon Pathom town. You could also charter a taxi for the day and hit a few of this underrated province's other highlights, like Wat Bang Phra tattoo temple, Air Orchid Farm, Jesada Technik antique car museum, Phra Pathom Chedi, Sanam Chandra Palace or two other fantastic country markets, Don Wai and Lam Phaya. While the latter is only open on weekends, Don Wai and Thana open daily from early morning to late afternoon.